Are you familiar with the Biblical verse, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35)? Servant leaders live by this motto. This also goes to show that service leadership has been existing since the time of Jesus. So…what is servant leadership?
Servant leadership is a type of leadership practice where the leader is described to be an intelligent and respected person who has the ability to place himself in the shoes of others.
It is a system that is known to cultivate the lives of people and establish quality institutions to eventually shape a peaceful world.
This is basically how servant leadership is defined by the Center for Servant Leadership, an institution founded by Robert K. Greenleaf who first announced the concept through the essay he published in the ‘70s.
You might then ask, who is a servant leader?
Well, he is someone who puts the needs of others first before he thinks of his own.
He is concerned about the well-being of individuals who form part of the team he belongs to.
Some of the internationally known servant leaders include theologian, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi, South African President Nelson Mandela, and American activist Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you have a desire of becoming a servant leader yourself, you must familiarize yourself of the accomplishments of these leaders.
They all possessed servant leadership skills. Indeed, they all had the qualities of servant leadership.
Servant Leadership Principles
These principles aim to guide you on how to be a servant leader in its truest sense.
These are the same set of basics followed not just by politicians and religious leaders but also by servant leaders in business.
As you read along, you will observe that these principles will open your mind to the different qualities of servant leadership.
You Must Have Listening Skills
Are you familiar with that old idea of sacredness practiced by the Japanese towards their emperors?
The emperors practiced tough leadership and all their ideas were to be accepted without question.
This meant that all the pleas, suggestions, and requests of the Japanese people fell on deaf ears.
Apparently, this is not how servant leaders behave.
Listening is one of the best servant leadership skills there is.
A servant leader listens attentively to the ideas and concerns of his subordinates.
She makes it a point to understand everything that they have to say because it is the basis of her decisions and action plans.
If you aim to make your subordinates motivated and empowered, you have to make sure that their concerns and opinions are all heard.
Here are several suggestions on how you can practice effective listening:
- You have to show your subordinates that you are indeed listening. Show it through your facial expression, the tone of your voice, and your body language.
2. When you take into consideration everything that they say, it doesn’t mean that you have to agree all the time. If you have your own concerns, let your voice be heard as well. Make clarifications and express your opinions politely.
3. Write down what they have to say. It’s basically the same as writing the minutes of a meeting – jot down everything, starting from everyone’s fresh ideas down to the final decisions. It is important to always document everyone’s inputs.
4. Make a run-through of your conversation with them. If possible, e-mail them the summary or ask one of them to make a summary and have it emailed to everyone.
That way, you will have an idea whether all of you are on the same page or not.
Furthermore, it will give you a clear picture of whether all of you have the same end-goals or not.
You Must Know How To Empathize
When you listen to your subordinates and take into consideration everything that they have to say, it is likely that you will also express empathy towards them.
All servant leaders in business possess this skill.
This, however, doesn’t mean that all leaders are empathetic.
If you feel that you have not yet mastered this principle, here are two strategies to help you develop such skill:
- Don’t judge your subordinates immediately. As common as it may sound, you have to learn to always give others the benefit of the doubt.
If one of your subordinates seems to stubbornly express his inputs that are not agreeable to you, ask him questions to better understand his views.
That way, you will be able to figure out better how to resolve the issue.
2. Practice being kind to everyone. Some leaders play favorites, but servant business leaders don’t. You have to treat all your subordinates fairly.
Just because one of your subordinates excels in a complex work matter, doesn’t mean that you have to treat him more favorably than others.
Some business leaders are only concerned about sales, profits, and clients.
However, servant business leaders are also concerned about the welfare of their subordinates.
You Must Possess An Exceptional Sense Of Awareness
In becoming a servant leader, you must be in touch not only with your subordinates and your organization but also with yourself.
You have to thoroughly understand the challenges, the strengths and weaknesses, and the values, among many others, because knowing all these will give you full awareness and confidence to lead your group.
Here are tips on how to remind yourself of your roles as a business leader:
Always Find Time To Be Alone
All successful business leaders practice this.
It is important that you assess the different aspects of your business as well as of your leadership.
It is advisable that you jot down all your thoughts on this, including your responsibilities and challenges.
That way, you can ensure that you get to take everything into consideration.
Be honest in evaluating your work performance.
Admit to yourself if you have flaws, and make sure that you address them all.
Always Find Time To Update Yourself About What’s Going On Within The Organization
Find time to take a tour within the organization and have a conversation not only with your subordinates but also with other leaders.
That way, you get to update yourself about the organization as a whole.
Always Be Aware Of The Business Environment
In spite of being in the top management level, you also have to take the time to update yourself about what’s going on in other levels of management.
This way, it is easier for you to figure out which business aspect needs improvement should any problem arise.
Also, awareness doesn’t simply stop with updating yourself of the events within the organization.
It also means that you have to be aware of the business performance of your competitors.
This is important as it is one way of knowing your competitiveness in the market.
You Must Master The Art Of Persuasion
As earlier mentioned, there was a time when Japanese emperors never listened to their people.
The Japanese people, whether they agreed or not, had no choice but to simply obey the rules imposed by the emperors.
Sometimes, you might wonder if they did it out of respect or simply out of fear.
Many people concluded that it was out of fear.
Apparently, that is not how to be a servant leader.
Here are several techniques on how to become a persuasive servant leader:
Credibility Must Emanate From You
To show this, you have to practice what you preach.
If you want your subordinates to believe everything you say and do, then you have to walk the talk.
Touch The Emotions Of Your People
This is like saying that you have to empathize with your people.
Speak about common experiences, share your words of wisdom, and spread positivity.
Let them feel their significance by positively describing your accomplishments as a team.
When talking to them, refrain from looking so serious.
Instead, talk in a relatable and enthusiastic manner, but make sure that you also express your integrity and confidence.
Be Rational At All Times
Before talking to your subordinates, make sure you have gathered your thoughts.
You have to make sure that you get to relay complete and consistent messages.
When you are conducting a meeting with them, begin with a strong introduction, but use simple words.
In fact, you have to use simple words throughout the meeting.
That is one way of ensuring that they understand the entire discussion.
Never End A Conversation Without Ensuring That They Fully Understood Everything
To emphasize, be sure that you always communicate in a simple manner.
In spite of using simple words, you can find a way to talk to them with a powerful and positive impact.
Also, always clarify the topics you discuss by asking them questions.
Master Responsible Stewardship
Responsible stewardship is one of the most important servant-leadership rules that business leaders need to master.
In this principle, you have to express that you care for the business.
You also have to ensure the efficiency of the management, as well as the growth of both the employees and the organization as a whole.
Here are several ideas on how you can show responsible stewardship:
Exhibit Your Sense Of Accountability
When challenges in the workplace arise, do not point fingers or blame someone in your team.
Instead, move forward and ask yourself what you are supposed to do as the leader of the team.
Immediately look for solutions instead of looking for someone to blame.
Always give the benefit of the doubt that, perhaps, the reason why some of your subordinates did not perform well was that they were not given clear instructions or they were not trained well.
Make sure that when you look for solutions to company problems, always include how you can make your subordinates efficient and effective in the future.
When you put in place a ‘no blame’ policy, your subordinates will be able to adopt that too.
This only means that when problems arise within the organization, your subordinates will also avoid blaming their co-workers.
Instead, they will also learn to move forward and help you think of solutions to problems.
Develop Your Subordinates
If you are a good servant leader, sharpening the skills and work performance of your subordinates forms part of your duties and responsibilities.
Have you heard the adage, “You’re a good leader if you can make your subordinates better leaders than you are”? If you consider yourself a good steward, develop them to be better stewards than you.
Give them projects that will allow them to have a sense of ownership, as well as a sense of commitment.
Be Sure You Know Your Resources
Understand the resources of your company very well.
By doing so, it will be easier for you to manage them.
That way, you would know which resources to maximize.
This can help you save costs, and be beneficial for the company.
Be Sure That You And Everyone Else In The Top And Senior Management Have The Same End-goals For The Company
Honestly, this is a highly significant skill to have.
Making sure that you and your co-leaders all have similar end-goals means that you are all on the same page.
You are all working with the same mission and vision in mind.
This is the true definition of cooperation.
Be An Expert In Business Conceptualization
When you ask experts what servant leadership in business means, one of the things that they will tell you is ‘having the skill of conceptualizing’.
Being able to conceptualize means that you can provide your team with a clear picture of what things should be done and how.
Here are several suggestions on how you can promote the significance of conceptualization to your organization:
- Create A Mission-vision That Everyone Can Easily Understand
Gone are the days when a company’s mission-vision were full of big and tough words, and employees were all forced to memorize them without understanding a single thing about it.
You know, it is useless to have your people memorize something that they don’t understand.
It is a good thing that many leaders nowadays have realized that, and have started revising and simplifying their mission-vision statements.
When the mission-vision is clear, no matter how challenging the journey is towards achieving the company’s goal, everyone will continue to move towards achieving it.
- Make It A Point To Continually Discuss With Your Subordinates. Together, Visualize A Common Future For The Company
During a normal conversation, share with them how you envision the company five or ten years from now.
Give them the assurance that you foresee them to still be with the company, but have already improved and achieved a lot.
In other words, make them part of the success that you foresee for the company.
Clearly emphasize what is expected of them
Clearly define each of your subordinates’ duties and responsibilities, and evaluate their performance on a regular basis.
A good practice is discussing each of their Key Performance Indicators in the first month of the year.
Outline each of the tasks that they are expected to do for the entire year.
That way, they will start the year with a clear picture of their significance to the company.
If you can, assess their work performance on a monthly basis.
If this is too tedious for you, you can instead do it on a quarterly basis.
It doesn’t matter how often.
What matters is that you do it often.
This will help them not to get lost at work because they are regularly reminded of their duties and responsibilities.
When you build business concepts and communicate them effectively to the entire team, you will be amazed at how less stressful things can be.
Leading a company is full of stress, but when you have control over it through conceptualization, things will somehow be a little easier.
Besides, conceptualizing is a perfect tool to stay motivated.
- You Need To Have A Sense Of Foresight
Some say having a sense of foresight is a gift, while some say it is something that can be learned.
This is probably because some successful business leaders are called visionaries [people with the ability to imagine or see the future], while others are not.
Well, if you are an optimistic leader, you would know that everything can be learned no matter how impossible it may seem.
Therefore, you too can learn foresight.
To develop your foresight, be open in getting a mentor as she can help you improve this skill.
She will help you realize the challenges of servant leadership so that you can expect these challenges in the future.
Make Sure That Your Team Can Sense Your Deep Commitment To Them And To Your Company As A Whole
If your subordinates lack commitment to their work, it is possible that they see a lack of commitment in you as well.
But if you practice all the principles laid out in this guide, chances are that you and your team will express a serious commitment at work.
Here, we have basically discussed the importance of servant leadership to you, your people, and your company as a whole.
Servant leadership can be described as a big case of domino effect – if you do a good job, your people will do a good job too.
Yes, the challenges of servant leadership will always be there.
However, when you master all these principles, you will have an edge in overcoming all these challenges.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone asks, “Who is a servant leader?” and then people will reply with your name, along with Mandela’s, Gandhi’s, and Mother Teresa’s?
So, do you think you’ve got what it takes to become a servant leader?
Do leave us your comments!
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